Well, what MSI is showing here has to be one of the most unique products I have seen in a long time. For that accomplishment alone I have to really praise them. This is a unique product, much respect.
Update - in the second week of June we retested and rewrote this article. Our previous findings showed an offset in high temperatures and noise levels. It seems we had a faulty card to test with. After receiving a new sample, we are now very happy to show you the results in this article, the MSI N260GTX Lightning edition graphics card, revisited. And trust me when I say .. this made a difference.
Innovation wise this product is brilliant, design wise .. brilliant. One can discuss the effectiveness of the external Airforce control module though. I mean, it's nice, remains a gimmick. Allow me to explain, at default your card is clocked at 650 MHz on the core. After rubbing 2 minutes over all touch sensitive keys on breakout box trying to get the Jeanie out of the bottle .. we end up increasing the core clock with merely 30 MHz towards 680 MHz. The same goes for the other clocked domains of course, yet this is merely a 50 MHz bump upwards. See, at default your product is already overclocked really well, leaving very little for the AF panel.
Also, and this is very subjective, but controlling these features over an external box somehow didn't feel right. A software implementation probably is more straight forward and better, that or default a overclocked BIOS. See, if your card can manage it already, would you really configure your graphics cards at a lower frequency and then when you start gaming press a button ?
What I am trying to say is would you really like to switch in-between a lower performance and higher performance mode constantly ? I doubt that. You want the most of the product, always. But again, that is a subjective thing of course, definitely not necessarily a negative one. So yes, the external 'AirforcePanel, while aesthetically pleasing and fun .. is I'm afraid it is a bit of a gimmick you'll probably configure once, and then never again.
The card itself then, it is of course excellent. I like the little intricate details and overall design.
With this article being updated with a 2nd test sample (as the first one clearly was defective) we can only conclude that the cooler is really awesome. It remains really quiet and keeps temperatures under control really well. What a difference with that first sample, I mean dang. Instead of 100 Degrees C on the GPU core we now hover slightly above 60 Degrees C with the GPU completely stressed.
And the good thing about it is that the fan RPM will remain low as well. As such the product remains really silent.
Let's talk money, extra design features cost extra money plain and simple. Currently the product as tested today with the AirForcePanel and nice big phat 1792 MB video memory will cost you roughly 275~300 EUR/USD. And in all fairness that is a really fair price for a special design product like this. The biggest quandary for MSI however is that for 50 bucks less you can pick up a GeForce GTX 275 896 MB which in the grand scale of things performs just as well as the additional cluster of shader processors on the GTX 275 makes up for the 896MB extra memory on the MSI GTX260. And then there's of course the Radeon HD 4890 continue sly spreading sheer and love as well. It seems that the Lightning series arrived on the market a little too late in that regard.
With that concern out of the way, the rest of course is very positive. The MSI N260GTX Lightning offers features that are unprecedented. I like the Voltage touch point so you can measure a little deeper at GPU what the voltage (stability) is. I also like the overall design of the custom PCB, and I definitely think that cooler is looking incredibly nice.
Once we leave the AirForce panel for what it is and start overclocking outside MSI's baseline we see we can push the card even further. Our overclock ended at roughly 721 MHz on the core, 1525 MHz on the shader domain and 1092 (x2) on the memory. It's a pretty good overclock, especially with that dense 1792 MB GDDR3 onboard. Speaking on the topic of so much memory. The additional doubled up memory size does make a difference here and there. You need to play your games at very high resolutions and AA settings though, but sure .. it helps a little.
Alright, time to finish it up. We feel that MSI did something very special with the MSI N260GTX Lightning series graphics cards, I have so much respect for that. Personally I would not opt the Black edition model with the AirForce panel though, it might be a fun gimmick, but IMHO not worth the extra money. Grab Rivatuner, clock it to 680/1458/1053 and you have the exact same performance. Overall we feel this is a great product that from ground up is well thought through.
We are happy to have received a proper working model so we could update this review. As such the product shines and received the credit it really deserves. The temperatures where sweet, the nise levels silent and the overclock got ever better.
No matter how we look at the product, with external panel, customized PCB, heatpipe cooler, 1792 MB, HDMI, 216SP and sheer design versus price, it is the most unique GeForce GTX260 in the market today. We can't wait to get our hands on the upcoming GTX 275 Lightning model as well!
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